Patriots, Dolphins zero in on records

December 11, 2007 6:54 AM
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LAST WK SEASON PCT
7-8 95-107-5 47.1

Both marches continue. One towards perfection. One towards imperfection.

Many observers believe New England just passed its last remaining test en route to 16-0 with the 34-13 defeat of Pittsburgh last Sunday. Next on deck are home games against the 3-10 New York Jets and the 0-13 Miami Dolphins. Their final game of the regular season is at the New York Giants. The Patriots will be heavily favored in that game, especially if they are, as expected, 15-0.

There has been some conjecture about whether or not the Patriots would rest some of their key players for the playoffs but the reality is that it is more likely that it will be the Giants who will rest their stars.

The currently 9-4 Giants should have the top NFC wild card all wrapped up by the final week of the season. As a wild card they will not have any time off and will play the following weekend. Thus, desirous of being as fresh and healthy as possible for the playoffs, the G-men may have their starters play only a few series or perhaps a half, regardless of what is on the line for New England.

New England, Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle have clinched division titles. Indianapolis has yet to clinch its division, needing one more win or one Jacksonville loss to do so.
Pittsburgh has a slim one game edge over Cleveland in the AFC South. The Steelers do hold the tie-breaker edge over the Browns. San Diego has a two game lead over Denver in the AFC West and Tampa Bay holds a three game lead in the NFC South pending Monday’s game between New Orleans and Atlanta.

Jacksonville and Cleveland control the AFC wild cards with both Buffalo and Tennessee just a game behind Cleveland for that second wild card. The New York Giants have all but wrapped up the first NFC wild card, holding a two game lead over Minnesota. The Vikings control that second wild card but are just a game ahead of Arizona, Detroit, Washington and potentially New Orleans if the Saints were able to win at Atlanta Monday night.

Here’s a look at the 16 games to be played this weekend.

THURSDAY

Broncos +1 at Texans (46): Both teams are 6-7, making this a virtual playoff elimination game. Sage Rosenfels has played well in place of starter Matt Schaub and the young Texans are maturing as a football team under second season coach Gary Kubiak. Denver has not played well on the road most of the season. HOUSTON.

SATURDAY

Bengals -9 at 49ers (43): Both teams are playing out the string. The 49ers have been awful on offense all season and have scored the fewest points of any team in the league. Backup QB Trent Dilfer was injured in last week’s loss to Minnesota. Shaun Hill performed adequately in relief. The Bengals do not warrant this line. SF.

SUNDAY

Cards +3 at Saints (NT): New Orleans played at Atlanta on Monday night and needed a win to keep their slim wild card hopes alive. Both teams have had trouble running the ball on offense, but each has been above average in defending the run. As such we should see both teams emphasize the passing game. OVER.

Falcons +10½ at Bucs (NT): A win clinches the division title for Tampa who easily won the earlier meeting 31-7 a month ago. Both teams have issues at QB with Atlanta playing musical chairs with healthy quarterbacks. Tampa is just trying to find a healthy one. Tough for offenses to find a rhythm. UNDER.

Ravens -3 at Dolphins (37½): Something’s gotta give. Miami is winless on the season at 0-13. Baltimore is winless over the past two months, dropping 7 in a row following their 4-2 start. The Ravens are no bargain but they will also be motivated to avoid being the team that ends Miami’s streak. BALTIMORE.

Bills +6 at Browns (45½): Cleveland’s impressive offensive stats are almost offset by its league-worst defense, allowing 390 yards per game. Buffalo’s offense is improved with rookie Trent Edwards at QB and fellow rookie RB Marshawn Lynch again healthy. Cleveland has had problems holding onto leads. BUFFALO.

Packers -9 at Rams (44): The Rams QB situation is a mess with third stringer Brock Berlin making his NFL debut in last week’s loss at Cincinnati. No such problems with Favre and the Pack. The running game has emerged nicely with RB Ryan Grant having rushed for a league high 717 yards over his last 7 games. GREEN BAY.

Jags +4 at Steelers (39): The Jags have scored at least 24 points in seven straight games. Both teams run the ball exceptionally well and both defenses excel against the run. Those qualities suggest there will be several big play opportunities from each team’s unheralded passing game. OVER.

Jets +24 at Pats (50½): In 1966 the Washington Redskins set the single game point scoring record in their 72-41 win over the New York Giants. The bad blood that already existed between these teams was enhanced when the Jets "turned in" the Patriots in the "Spygate" affair. This could get really ugly in a very short time. NEW ENGLAND.

Seahawks -7 at Panthers (38): QB woes have made the Panthers turn to Vinny Testaverde and his age has limited his abilities. The Panthers may finally give undrafted rookie Matt Moore a look for the balance of the season. Only one of Seattle’s three road wins this year has been by more than 5. CAROLINA.

Titans -4 at Chiefs (34): Tennessee let an important game get away last week with their fourth quarter collapse against San Diego. Kansas City’s season all but ended a month and a half ago with the injury to star RB Larry Johnson. The Chiefs are 19-9-1 ATS in their regular season home finale, including 6-0 as a home underdog. KC

Colts -10 at Raiders (46): The Colts have shaken off their loss to New England and regained their swagger following Sunday night’s demolition of Baltimore. The defense remains solid, ranking second in the league. Despite their 4-9 record the Raiders have six losses by a TD or less and a running game that ranks fifth. INDIANAPOLIS.

Lions +11 at Chargers (45½): Detroit has lost five in a row and last week’s last minute home loss to Dallas may have effectively ended its season. The Chargers have won three straight and 7 of 9. The Lions have the league’s second worst defense that will be challenged by the San Diego running game. SAN DIEGO.

Eagles +10 at Cowboys (48½): Dallas dominated Philly earlier in a 38-17 win and the Eagles are all but mathematically out of the playoffs at 5-8. Both teams rank in the top ten on both offense and defense but the Cowboys are more legit, especially on offense. Only one other Eagles loss has been by more than 8 points. PHILLY.

Redskins +4½ at Giants (40½): The Giants have won 7 of 10, while Washington has gone 4-6 in its last 10. The teams are virtually even statistically almost across the board. Both teams have put up better defensive stats with each holding foes to under 100 rushing yards per game. UNDER.

MONDAY

Bears +9 at Vikings (44): The Bears defense, which carried them to the Super Bowl last season, ranks 29 this season, allowing 355 yards per game. Minnesota is surging at the right time behind its top ranked rushing offense and league leading rushing defense. Minnesota is getting improved QB play from Tarvaris Jackson. MINNESOTA.